Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Detransition, Baby [review]

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Published by One World on January 12, 2021
my rating: 5 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.00 (as of 2022-08-31)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

[…] her life as a woman arrived with pain; pain that had to be endured, withstood, pain that was the same as being alive, and so was without end.

This was really incredible. Torrey Peters is an incredible writer and I was constantly awed by how clever this was. ‘A whipsmart debut’ indeed. Reese is a trans woman living in New York who is figuring out herself and how to get what she wants in life. Ames is her ex-girlfriend, now detransitioned but not quite a cis man, trying to live a ‘normal’ life. Ames has gotten his current partner, his boss, pregnant and is frantically trying to decide what to do.

Before I knew this was authored by a trans women, the inclusion of detransition concerns me. I mean, we’re surrounded with right-wing rhetoric about how allowing trans children to be themselves will lead to all these horrible things, and how soo many people detransition. But Peters is trans and I felt that she handled this topic gracefully, emphasizing how so many trans folks are forced to detransition because it is so difficult to live in such a transphobic world.

While I am not a trans woman, as a member of the queer community I did find a lot of comfort and familiarity in this book. I’m also polyamorous and seeing the development of this triad warmed my heart — even if they have far to go when it comes to communication. But this book deals with a lot of dark topics, things that I don’t think could have been left out of a story like this. There is an interesting commentary about various forms of colonization and oppression; Ames’ partner Katrina is a cis woman but is biracial. Reese is used to viewing all cis women as privileged, but has to confront the fact that not all cis women are cis white women.

I also appreciated that Peters didn’t pause the story to introduce concepts of Gender 101; she used in-group language without explanation in a way that I found immersive and important. I appreciate when authors do this for any kind of culture — sprinkling in definitions often feels forced or pulls a reader out of the story. We all have access to Google and are able to look up anything we don’t understand from prior knowledge or context alone.

There were so many fascinating explorations of misogyny and transmisogyny and I’m excited to come back to this someday to pick up on more than can be processed via a first read. I feel like each page could spawn dozens of essays. Peters brought a remarkable book into this world and I’m looking forward to picking up her next one.


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Sorrowland [review]

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Published by MCD Books on May 4, 2021
my rating: 2 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.83 (as of 2022-08-21)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and may differ from the final publication.

The forest didn’t mind illiterates and mad girls. Didn’t mind that screaming was sometimes a person’s only language.

This was my first Rivers Solomon and I hate to say it but I was definitely disappointed. I went into this pretty cold and wasn’t really expecting the extreme fantastical elements — which I’ll admit is on me. It’s definitely a book that some people will love, but it was a little too out there for me. I had difficulty following some things and just didn’t get along with the writing in general. I did appreciate how queer this was, though, as well as the messages Solomon was conveying. I have a copy of The Deep which I’ll definitely also be trying out.


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Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead [review]

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily R. Austin
Published by Atria Books on July 6, 2021
my rating: 4 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.86 (as of 2022-08-19)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I don’t really owe anyone anything. I am an animal, brought into existence without my consent, left scrounging to get by.

This is a dark little novel about depression and anxiety and the things they push us to do. Gilda is already halfway to a breakdown when she’s in a ‘minor car accident’ that leaves her with a broken arm and a destroyed car. She’s given an ad for therapy, which leads her to a Catholic church, which leads her to a job where she has to hide the fact that she’s a lesbian. While Gilda was pushed to extremes here, I found myself relating strongly to her character. Avoidance as a result of extreme anxiety can lead us to do a lot of ‘weird’ things and I understood where she was coming from, even as I knew her actions were in no way sustainable.

I really enjoyed reading this, as much as someone can ‘enjoy’ something so anxiety-inducing. Austin is able to convey the difficulties of mental illness so well and is a fantastic writer who I look forward to reading more by.


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One Last Stop [review]

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on June 1, 2021
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.02 (as of 2022-08-06)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and may differ from the final publication.

Jane is spun sugar. A switchblade girl with a cotton-candy heart.

I wish I could put my finger on why this didn’t quite work for me. Maybe I went in with my expectations too high: I loved Red, White and Royal Blue and I was so excited for McQuiston to put out a sapphic romance as well. Most of my friends — people I share reading tastes with — gave the book five stars. But I was able to put this down for four days after hitting the halfway point because I didn’t feel compelled to continue.

Looking back, I think I found August a little unbelievable as a character. In fact, her whole group of friends made me feel more like I was reading a sitcom than a story I could really immerse myself into. I read plenty of sff and horror, so I don’t necessarily need realism in my books but I do need to feel like the characters are real people and I just didn’t get that here. I found myself skimming a lot throughout the second half of the book because I really just wanted to finish it.

That being said, this book still made me really emotional! That McQuiston can tug on my heartstrings in a story I’m not attached to is a testament to their writing. I had to put down the book at one point because I was reading during downtime at work and didn’t want to cry in front of any customers. I think if I had read it earlier, I may have gotten along with it better so I would definitely take my outlook with a grain of salt — especially because I’m in a clear minority.


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Pizza Girl [review]

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Published by Doubleday on June 9, 2020
my rating: 4 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.37 (as of 2022-06-03)
Spoiler-free review
Goodreads

I truly had no idea what to expect from this, but a pregnant 18-year-old obsessing over a middle aged woman wasn’t it. The titular Pizza Girl is a delivery driver who is dealing with grief, the looming future of motherhood, and a deepening divide between herself and her family, which consists of only her boyfriend and her own mother. This book has humorous moments and its fair share of vulgarity, but it’s a deep look into coming of age while in the throes of depression. I was frantic and heartbroken by the end of this, more closely invested in Pizza Girl than I thought I would become. I’m glad I was recommended this for the 12 in 12 Challenge, as I honestly think I wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise.


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Olga Dies Dreaming [review]

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Olga Dies Dreaming by Xóchitl González
Published by Flatiron Books on January 4, 2022
my rating: 3 stars
Goodreads avg:
4.03 (as of 2022-05-18)
Spoilers at bottom of review

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I liked how complex and easy to root for these characters were, even as they waded through gray areas of morality and made mistake after mistake. Olga is a wedding planner for the elite and her brother Prieto is a congressman. Both of them are of Puerto Rican descent, born and raised in Brooklyn. This novel explores their personal lives as well as the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico itself. 

Olga and Prieto are both middle aged and still dealing with being abandoned (and subsequently emotionally abused) by their mother, although in different ways. Prieto has hidden himself behind a mask that is beginning to crack and Olga has avoided any kind of emotional connections. Prieto begins to question the way he’s been doing things, while Olga meets the odd-yet-endearing Matteo.

This is an interesting examination of familial trauma, race, and gentrification that works in a lot of ways but ultimately tried to hit too many topics. One of my biggest issues was that the ending felt far too neat for me, like González needed to tie everything up in a bow. I felt like we went from realistic literary fiction to a run-of-the-mill romance novel in the 11th hour; it just didn’t fit the tone of everything that preceded it.


Overall, I did enjoy this though, it just ended up knocked down a few pegs for me. Everything from here on is spoiler territory, as there are some aspects of the ending that rubbed me the wrong way. Content warning for discussion of rape ahead. The first is that the ‘third act breakup’ is preceded by Olga being raped and having a complete mental breakdown. It honestly felt like the assault was just a tool to get to this conflict, and could have been replaced by anything else. When she finally tells Matteo, he’s like ‘wow that sucks and it’s not your fault, but you can’t ignore me when you’re upset.’ Like?? Maybe cut her a little more slack dude, she was literally just raped. 

Secondly, one of the unrealistic aspects of the ending is that Matteo just happens to be rich so he can say, ‘oh don’t worry about getting a job, we can just be together and money doesn’t matter!’ How is he rich? He’s a landlord. It’s okay, though! He’s a good landlord! He’s fighting gentrification! By being a landlord! Especially coming right after the ‘sorry you were raped but don’t ignore me’ conversation, this just left a bad taste in my mouth. Matteo is supposed to be a good guy, we’re supposed to be happy. I wasn’t.

Like I said above, this is still a good book. I still recommend it. I just couldn’t love it and have trouble looking past its faults.


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Milk Fed [review]

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Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
Published by Scribner on February 2, 2021
my rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads avg:
3.59 (as of 2022-04-23)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop

The Pisces was my top book of 2018, so I had high expectations for Broder’s sophomore novel. While I didn’t love this quite as much, I still devoured it. While The Pisces felt like a deep exploration of depression to me, Milk Fed is an exploration of disordered eating. Rachel, the narrator, is a Jewish woman who was raised by an overly critical mother and who uses food restriction as a religion, spending all her time thinking about eating.

I found the portrayal of binge eating in this incredibly spot-on, and thought Rachel’s changing relationship with her body — and Miriam’s — was interesting. I think there are going to be some varying views on the fat representation here and I’m not positive where I fall. Miriam never felt like a fully-formed character to me, but I think that was part of the point: Rachel coveted her in an unhealthy way, obsessing over Miriam’s body the way she obsessed over her own.

Much like The Pisces, I’m not sure who I would recommend this to. It certainly won’t please everyone, but if you’re able to let go and trust Broder I think you’re in for a good ride.


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Nothing But Blackened Teeth [review]

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Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
Published by Tor Nightfire on October 19, 2021
my rating: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Goodreads avg:
2.89 (as of 2022-01-12)
Spoiler-free review

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One girl each year. Two hundred and six bones times a thousand years. More than enough calcium to keep this house standing until the stars ate themselves clean, picked the sinew from their own shining bones.

Okay, I was genuinely shocked when I came on here to give my rating and saw the average goodreads rating. I can see how this wouldn’t work for some people — most of the characters are insufferable and the clarity is a bit lacking at times. But I found the writing so lyrical and the main character, Cat, so immensely relatable. As a queer person with depression, yeah I felt very seen. The atmosphere was truly immersive and I felt like I was standing right there with Cat as we watched our bad friends make bad decisions. It also had a little bit of a The Cabin in the Woods feel with its self-awareness, the characters knowing they were essentially living through a horror movie and making their decisions accordingly. I found that the dread built so well, even if it lost itself a bit in the climax. I was impressed by this and look forward to reading more of Khaw’s work!

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The Lost Girls [review]

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The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl
Published by Page Street Kids on September 14, 2021
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.59 (as of 2022-01-04)
Spoiler-free review

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I was a vampire. Undead, immortal, powerful. I would not be brought to my knees by a mortal girl with a gorgeous smile and terrible dance moves.

2 ⭐️

This was such a fun concept with so much promise, but unfortunately it fell quite short for me. Although this was a quick read, I found the writing really clunky, the characters flat, and the story itself boring. I kept waiting to feel something regarding the main romance but there was just no chemistry for me. Ida and Rose were truly interchangeable to me and I could never remember who was who. Elton just felt like an evil caricature. The worldbuilding was somewhat interesting – lots of new vampire “rules” – but that couldn’t carry the rest of the book for me. I ended up skimming the last quarter because I just didn’t care. So bummed this didn’t work out for me, but I didn’t find it enjoyable enough to overlook the poor writing.

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Fingersmith [review]

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Published by Riverhead Books on October 1, 2002
my rating: ★★ (2 stars)
Goodreads avg:
3.98 (as of 2022-01-01)
Spoiler-free review

Goodreads | Bookshop


Sometimes she would close her eyes. ‘How well you know me,’ she might say. ‘I think you know the turning of all my limbs.’

This was my first Sarah Waters and it may very well be my last, unless someone wants to convince me otherwise. Maybe it was my mistake reading this during the dark dreary parts of winter, but this was just absolutely miserable. While I loved bits of the relationship between Sue and Maud, I found most of the characters themselves to be incredibly irritating. Sometimes it felt like we were spending full chapters watching them just mope. I think that I would have enjoyed this more if a lot had been cut out; at some points it truly just dragged.

I’ll try to stay vague to avoid spoilers, but I also really struggled to suspend my disbelief when it came to some of the twists. I don’t need my fiction to be 100% realistic, but there were moments where I just thought, “Really?? You expect me to believe they got away with this?” At first I was impressed with how Waters managed to catch me by surprise, but eventually it felt more like she was trying to write something as complicated as possible regardless of how much sense it made.

That being said — I do see what others could enjoy in this. Sometimes I think I find myself a little too empathetic when it comes to reading fictional POVs, which means I can struggle with darker content. This book really pulled me down into its mood and was a difficult reading experience. I did enjoy the Victorian lesbian romance as well as the commentary on women’s lack of agency. I think it would have made a big difference if I didn’t feel so, well, miserable reading it. I do think this is worth trying if you enjoy historical fiction and are looking for something sapphic and mysterious, but just be prepared for some sob stories.

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